Robin Smail (@robin2go), Patti Fantaske, and Lori Packer (@LoriPA) moderated an audience participation session discussing the ever-growing importance of the backchannel - conversation between audience members - in conferences and in the classroom. As the backchannel has moved into to Twitter and online, it has broken geophysical and time constraints - it spreads across the whole internet, and exists in a semi-permanent searchable environment.
The discussion revolved around how presenters should use or choose not to use the backchannel. Backchannel, particularly when it turns critical or snarky, can disrupt a presentation, regardless of the quality of the presenter or their content. Backchatter that is overtly visible, such as on stage behind the presenter, run the risk of overwhelming the presenter and taking center stage.
Ultimately the questions comes down to who is responsible for monitoring, directing, or responding to the backchannel. Some presenters might be able to do this, but can only do so sporadically; others would be completely thrown off of their presentation and find it difficult to recover. The general consensus was that in regards to conferences, an ombudsman for the backchannel should monitor the backchannel and bring questions or issues to the presenter as they come up. No clear answers yet, but the discussion continues as this will only increasingly become an issue.